Billsville, honeyhoney concerts on tap this weekend in Vermont and the Berkshires
MANCHESTER -- Ever have a fantasy about your favorite singer performing for you and a group of your friends right in your living room?
Doug Hacker, a software developer from Williamstown, did. He decided to make it happen -- and he succeeded.
Three years ago, a friend of his posted on her Facebook page that one of her favorite singer-songwriters, Joe Pug, would perform at her home at a "house concert." Intrigued, Hacker called her up and asked how she'd pulled thatoff. It turned out Pug had a few days in between shows while touring out West and was happy to come and perform at her home for whatever the freight would bear.
"So, I pulled up (Pug's) concert schedule from his website, saw he had a few days off in between a show in Boston and another one in Toronto, and asked if he wanted to do a gig in Williamstown," Hacker said. "To my surprise, I got an email back saying, ‘Sure'."
With that, "Billsville House Concerts" were born.
The concept is a throwback to an earlier era of folksinging -- with a millennial twist and flavor. Decades ago, relatively unknown entertainers, who wanted to gain a following, performed in such venues, a home or a space, like a barn, that could turn into an impromtu concert hall. Today, with the recording industry still rebuilding in the wake of the Internet and downloadable music, live performances are crucial to building a similar cadre of fans, as well as a revenue stream. Increasingly, musicians, who want to make a name for themselves, have to take their career development into their own hands, Hacker said.
That first house concert with Joe Pug went so well, it spawned several more in its wake. Hacker, a lifelong music fan, can't quit his day job just yet, however. Arranging the house concerts are a labor of love and depend on the contributions of his wife and two sons. His oldest son, now 14, does the sound, his 10 year-old works the door, and he and his wife host. Whatever money from admissions or donations that comes in goes to the performing artists, who also get a day in the country, some vegetarian cooking and a chance to perform in an intimate setting.
"We kind of make it easy," he said. "We do everything -- the set up, the promotion, the sound, etc."
Those in the audience get to hear top-quality music without the hassle and distractions of a bar or large concert hall. House concerts won't replace such venues, but they are a growing part of several artists' performing schedules, Hacker said.
After doing a few house shows in Williamstown, he branched out. Last year, he migrated a few miles up Route 7 to the Vermont Arts Exchange in North Bennington, and this year, the concerts have headed farther north, to a barn near the Inn at Willow Pond in Manchester.
Last month, Billsville House staged its first concert there with Rayland Baxter, a Nashville-based singer-songwriter. On Friday, April 11, alt-country artist Caroline Rose and her band will perform at the inn's barn.
Hacker first heard about Rose at the Wilco Fest at Mass MoCA last year and went online to find out more. He listened to some of her recordings and liked what he heard, he said.
"Lyrically, it was amazing; musically, it was right," he said. "We think about bringing in bands we think will be popular with lots of people."
He booked Rose for one of the shows at the Vermont Arts Exchange last September and is looking forward to her return to Vermont. She will perform April 12 at the Elks Club in North Adams, he said.
For the North Adams show, she and her band will open for honeyhoney, also from Nashville with a local connection -- their guitarist, Ben Jaffe, was born and raised in Williamstown.
Rose is originally from New York, but half her family is from the South, so she hangs her hat in Nashville, Tenn., when she's not on the road. She and her musical partner, Jer Coons, released an album in 2012, "American Religious," funded largely through a Kickstarter campaign.
She had been studying architecture before a music career took over, she said.
"I'm a failed architect," she said during a telephone interview last week. "I wrote music more out of necessity ... and it just happened."
She had a few recordings before "American Religious" was released, but that collection of music has gotten them some attention. She and Coons will join a drummer and bass player for the shows in Manchester and North Adams, she said.
"Having two bandmates opens up a lot more options, because now we can amp up the sound a bit more, and it's a different style of music that I couldn't tap into before," she said. "Our shows tend to verge on a more rambunctious honky-tonk sound."
More house concerts will follow, but Hacker said he only plans a few months ahead
"It's easier to get good bands if you can fit into their schedule," he said. "These are concerts where we expect people will pay attention to the music; it's not a substitute social scene. We like the atmosphere to be a respectful one. But it's a great way to hear music."
If you go ...
What: Caroline Rose
and her band in concert
When: Friday, April 11
Where: Inn at Willow Pond,
Route 7A, north of Manchester and almost in Dorset
When: Saturday, April 12, opening for HoneyHoney
Where: Elks Club, North Adams
What: honeyhoney in concert
When: Friday, April 11
Where: Mount Greylock High School, Route 7, Williamstown
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